Every year I get really excited for the non-conference preseason tournament slate. They always feature outstanding early season matchups and give us fans the ability to evaluate if teams are overrated or undervalued as early as November. While Maui usually shines the brightest as far as quality matchups, this year a different tournament over Thanksgiving takes the crown.
The nationally televised Anaheim Classic will feature top-25 contenders Arizona State, Baylor and Wake Forest. Also in the field are Providence and new coach Keno Davis, WCC contender St. Mary’s, UTEP, Charlotte and two more teams that have yet to be announced.
The Great Alaska Shootout normally draws very solid matchups but is now struggling to survive. Since ESPN has dropped the full telecast of the GAS, they have to pay teams 55,000 to come to Alaska as opposed to just 14,000 four years ago. The Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks recently folded and it’s becoming more and more difficult to attract teams to Alaska. The participants in 2008 are San Diego State, Portland State, Hampton, Northern Illinois, Louisiana Tech, Western Carolina, Alaska-Anchorange and an unknown 8th team.
-The Coaches vs. Cancer leads off the season and you know Duke has to be involved if ESPN is televising. The four regionals are UCLA, Duke, Michigan and Southern Illinois. A Duke-UCLA final at MSG could be very compelling. Michigan has a threat in their region with Massachusetts.
- The Legends Classic is Pittsburgh’s to lose. The other teams are Washington State, Mississippi State and Texas Tech.
The CBE Classic in Kansas City could feature a Kansas-Florida matchup that has been highly anticipated each year now. Only this year both teams are barely scraping the Top 25 after one of the two has won the National Title the last three years. The favorites to reach KC: Florida, Kansas, Syracuse, Washington.
The San Juan Shootout is underrated with Wright State, South Florida, Murray State and Oral Roberts.
The Puerto Rico Classic could be a tournament to keep a close eye on. John Calipari and Memphis could find themselves facing Demar DeRozan and the USC Trojans in an exciting final. Also in the tournament are Virginia Tech, Xavier, Seton Hall, Hofstra and two more unannounced teams.
The four Preseason NIT regionals: Boston College, Oklahoma, Arizona, Purdue. Don’t put Oklahoma in New York automatically, though. Davidson is in their region. Purdue has Georgia in theirs but they should be able to get past the Bulldogs.
The Old Spice Classic is the cream of the preseason tournament crop over Thanksgiving Weekend, with every game being televised by ESPN. When Georgetown is arguably the fifth or sixth best team in the field, you know you have something special. The big players are Gonzaga, Tennessee and Michigan State. Also armed and potentially dangerous are Maryland, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Siena and Wichita State.
The Maui Invitational usually is the best tournament. It’s not as star-studded as previous years, but features the best potential final: North Carolina vs. Notre Dame, a battle of top five teams. Also in the field are Alabama, rebuilding Indiana, Oregon, Saint Joe’s, the host Chaminade…and Texas, who could pull a shocker.
The Paradise Jam is also a dandy. UConn and Miami are both top-10 or 15 teams and could meet in a very good final. Watch out for San Diego and Wisconsin, as well. Filling out the field is Southern Miss, La Salle, Valpariso and Iona.
The two games in Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Invite: Kansas State vs. Kentucky, West Virginia vs. Iowa
Not a bad way to start the college hoops season.